Since 2006, I have been thinking through various iterations of a digital commonplace book. First, a little background on the traditional practice of commonplacing...
As early as the 14th Century in the west, literate populations began to cobble together bits of information--quotes, measures, thoughts, arguments, summaries, responses--on paper, an increasingly ubiquitous resource. These "note books" eventually came to be known as commonplace books, and they were a predicated upon tenets of classical rhetoric. George Eliot kept a commonplace book; so did Thoreau, Thomas Jefferson, and E.M Forster, among many, many others.
The Digital Commonplace
While people continue to keep journals--both offline and on--the online sourcing and collection of information and contemporary digital reading practices have provided different affordances for the same kinds of work accomplished in the traditional commonplace book. Delicious, Digg, Reader, FriendFeed--all of these tools enable knowledge curation practices which remediate the work of commonplacing to a certain extent. And the affordances are strikingly different: greater access to massive amounts of information, far flung, and harder to filter. If these affordances can be managed effectively, new communications tools can revive commonplacing in a significant way (in fact, if you're reading this, you are very likely already engaged in the kinds of digital commonplacing I am suggesting...).
As I mention above, I have been trying to develop the idea of digital commonplacing in concert with research on recursion in writing studies (and more recently, ambient research). For example, in 2006 my first-year writing students used a modified version of the WebCT discussions area to produce a (quasi) stream of short reading responses and thought pieces that eventually built from and played off of one another. Today, platforms like FriendFeed and Twitter afford commonplacing activities in ways that are persistent, searchable, copyable, and easily shareable.
A key, of course, is positioning the platform so that it can be effective for this kind of work.
I'm still thinking through these ideas, and I'll be discussing Twitter as digital commonplace book at the upcoming International Digital Media and Arts Association annual conference (iDMAa), held this year on my home campus of Ball State University. The abstract for that talk elaborates a bit on these ideas, and is embedded below. As always, I welcome feedback!